It’s hard to cry for departed Christian friends because I know where they are and am confident I’ll see them again. It’s much easier to weep for those they left behind. We must all await our time to enter the realm of God.
My friend Paula left us last month. Paula is a vivacious, generous, and gentle soul who God pulled into my life and became my friend just before I was diagnosed with cancer in 2015. (If you missed it, here are easy links to part one and part two.)
I originally assumed God had brought us together for me to help her with her cancer diagnosis; but in a short matter of time we could see that we were meant to lean on each other through the suffering of this disease. Two Christian women fighting shoulder to shoulder with the big C.
God’s plan in our friendship really became evident when Paula’s disease metastasized to bone and brain and her faith began to falter. (You can read that here with links to part one and part two.) It scared me because she was one of the most solid women I knew. If her faith could crumble so easily … could mine?
What I didn’t know until later was that her doctors had told her she was incurable from day one.
It’s a hideous word that should not have found its way into our lexicon. I wondered how having that word spoken over you could damage your psyche. Now I could really appreciate just how tough and resilient she was. She’d lasted almost two years with that label slapped on her and her faith had just now had begun to slip. I counted my blessings that no doctor has ever used that word or, the alternate, “terminal” with me. Of course we are all terminal in one way or another.
Determined to restore her faith, we embarked on a 28-day bible study by Kay and David Arthur called Lord, I Need Answers. I’m not sure if it was the weekly camaraderie or God working through the study itself (or both!), but we were equally refreshed and stronger by the time we completed that study. I cheered as Paula was able to say with confidence the ultimate statement, “I know I’m going to Heaven when I die.” Faith reestablished! Hallelujah!
It wasn’t long though before Paula’s body began to ignore her directives. Since the disease had begun ravishing her body, she slipped into hospice care and friend after friend came by to sit with her, offering their love and support, and praying over her and with her.
It was very tough to witness this vital, faithful, loving woman fade away and I was with her on what was to become her last day. That afternoon I prayed a couple of Psalms over her (something she liked me to do when I’d come over) but found it very difficult to get through Psalm 91, one of our favorites. I dissolved into tears as I prayed God’s undying love over her. I couldn’t be sure she had heard me at all but had her hand in mine and as I was saying goodbye with a promise of returning the next day, she squeezed. I reported it to her nurse as I burst into a fresh round of tears.
Her husband, Bob, let us all know that she passed into Jesus’ arms at about 10pm that evening. I can’t say enough about Bob. He’s a good, godly man and a verifiable rock. There’s no wonder that God brought Bob into Paula’s life for a time such as this. It’s never easy for a man to lose his wife, but really God? They just celebrated their third wedding anniversary in March.
I’m beyond grateful that God brought Paula and I together two years ago. I’m overjoyed that He was able to use her in my life and me in hers right until the end. I’m thankful she heard a few chapters of my book and never once laughed!
Farewell, my friend, I love you.
“Don’t be dismayed at good-byes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.”
~ Richard Bach (Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah)
How could we not feel anything other than that for Him?
Since we were talking about Ebenezers last week, I wanted to show you the one I’ve been building since I got to Florida.
You know that God gave me the plan for my immediate future in 2010, while I was in Arizona. During the third year that I was in Florida I received Joshua 1:5.
No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. I will be with you, just as I was with Moses. I will not leave you or forsake you.
I needed that verse in the early years of my life in Florida because I often believed that I was in some kind of wasteland. Even though His plan for me was falling into place exactly as He’d promised. I hadn’t been able to find a job since I’d lost mine in 2008 (and it was now 2013), I was still living in my parent’s house, and I still had doubts that I should be in Florida at all. I mean … maybe what I thought was “God’s Plan” was just something my brain cooked up and not from Him at all.
Getting this scripture brought me to my knees. It is, essentially, three promises in one glorious verse. This ‘gift’ from God came at a time when the devil had been bullying me with severe oppression over my inability to find a job. Furthermore, I wasn’t really hearing from God the way I had in Arizona and thought He had deserted me. The Holy Spirit put me quickly and firmly on the right track with this verse.
All three promises were important. The first “No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live.” gave me greater strength to thwart Satan’s lies. The third, “I will not leave you or forsake you.” reminded me that I wasn’t in a desert and far away from God. But the second part … oh the second part! “I will be with you, just as I was with Moses.” Man, that’s amazing. Do you remember how God was with Moses throughout the early books of the Bible? I can just imagine Joshua hearing this. Since he, too, was with Moses and knew how God interacted with him, did he fall over in awe? I certainly did. God hasn’t disappointed. He has made good on these promises and I knew I needed a stone to remember that He had helped me thus far.
The top stone is the verse God gave me after I’d been diagnosed with cancer and was crying one night to Him about everything in the Plan I’d hadn’t done. It was the last part in the plan and I’d dragged my feet and hemmed and hawed and had started – but had not finished the last phase.
My remorseful plea that lonely night was, “Am I going to die without finishing what you said I would do?” Tears flooding my pillow. That was followed by “I’m sorry, Lord.” And then came a fresh round of tears. I was sorry I hadn’t acted faster and now I might not have time to do what He called me to do.
It was the next morning that the Holy Spirit impressed Numbers 23:19 onto my heart:
God is not a man who lies, or a son of man who changes His mind. Does He speak and then not act, or promise and not fulfill?
Upon reading this verse I dissolved into a mass of tears again. But this time they weren’t tears of sorrow. Joy flooded my heart to almost bursting. What relief!
This scripture told me I wasn’t going to die – at least not before I finished His plan for me. It also promised that I would finish it, because God doesn’t lie, change His mind, or not honor His promises. At that moment, those were the sweetest words my wretched heart needed to hear.
Certainly a scripture worthy of an Ebenezer. So I found another stone and wrote the verse address on it. I never want to forget that here, again, was a time when God has helped me thus far.
So, did you think about using some sort of Ebenezer to remember how He has helped you too? I’m dying to know what you’re using. Let me know in the comments!
If you weren’t with us on Monday, I’m quite certain you’ll need to toddle back and read that post to get what’s happening here! It’s okay, we’ll wait for you!
I didn’t research the churches on Mom’s list because I stumbled over a piece in the local newspaper about John Maxwell that announced he was going to speak at a church called Christ Fellowship on the last Sunday of the year. John Maxwell? Throughout my years as a human resources professional, I’d trained my management team on a number of his books. This was exciting and furthermore, I recognized the name of the church from my Mom’s short list. It was a no-brainer to start there in my search for a church.
So on the last Sunday of 2010, while driving to the church, I continued to pray all the way, “Lord, get me outta here.” It didn’t matter that John Maxwell was going to be there. I wanted out of Florida – but quick.
I drove on to the campus of this mega-church with a highly cynical eye. People were smiling and waving. Signs read “New Visitor? Flashers On.” I turned mine on and was directed to special parking right in front of the church. A parking attendant met me at my car and walked me in to a place where people were eating breakfast. A healthy bookstore sat off to one side. Another volunteer met me inside and directed me to the sanctuary. I found a seat in the huge auditorium and settled in for the service. Before it even had begun I was welcomed by two different pastors. I remember thinking ‘this place is way too slick.’ People were too happy – too smiley – too shiny. I wondered if I’d fallen into some sort of alternate universe of Stepford Wives.
The lights came down and the band started to play. It is my supreme pleasure to worship Christ and when I stood and lifted my hands to the heavens, the Holy Spirit fell upon me so quickly that I was bowled over with capital L – Love. Suddenly, the place didn’t seem so “slick” at all but warm, friendly, and so full of Christ-loving Christians that I could no longer deny my joy in finding this church. On my way home I was so happy I prayed earnestly, “Lord, I want to stay here. Please help me find a way to stay here.”
I could just imagine God looking down on me and nodding in satisfaction.
What I didn’t remember at the time was the second phase of the plan that the Lord had given me in Arizona. The first phase was “you will move to Florida.” The second was “you will find a super new church.”
How easily I had forgotten that all along I was walking in His will. Had I, number one, remembered His plan and, number two, changed my attitude (instead of complaining – actually looked forward to the next item on the list) I’m certain my transition to life in Florida would have been a whole lot easier … and perhaps even pleasant.
The “plan” as I’d come to call it, seemed to skirt my memory most days. It was only a few more weeks of attending this new church when I met some ladies who were so full of the Holy Spirit, He practically oozed out of them. Driving home that Sunday I thought about my new-found friends and thought, ‘This sounds familiar.’ I dug out my journal and read number three on the list, “you will find great new Christian friends.” Doh! How stupid I’d been. Thankfully we serve a gracious and merciful God who allowed me to rail against Him time after time until I could recollect the plan he’d given me in prayer.
An Ebenezer would have been helpful. I could have considered my journal an Ebenezer, but that would mean that I’d have to actually open it and reread entries. Yet, each time a part of His plan fell into place I should have found a stone to add to the pile. It seems that only the physical representation of the stones would help a dunce like me.
So … do you doubt? Do you forget that the Lord has helped you thus far and wonder and worry about what is going on in your life?
I think it’s okay to doubt. Just don’t languish there for any period of time. Instead, spend your time reviewing God’s work in your life rather than holding your own little pity party like I did when I moved to Florida.
How has the Lord helped you in the past? Now make yourself an Ebenezer. It doesn’t have to be a pile of stones, it could be a journal, writing on a white board, sticky notes on the bathroom mirror … anything that will remind you that God is close.
He loves you and He will never leave you.
For a few years now I’ve considered my faith like a brick wall. Not that it shuts out the world … although it may also do that … but it helps me stand firm in my conviction of Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Each time I witness something of God – a word of knowledge, his voice coming through loud and clear from the Bible, a divine appointment, a miracle, His faithfulness – each instance is a brick that I mortar on to the existing wall making it stronger, wider, higher.
It’s kinda like my modern day Ebenezer.
In (1 Samuel 7:8–11) the Israelites were victorious in a fight against the Philistines but only because God intervened.
Afterward, Samuel took a stone and set it upright between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, explaining, “The LORD has helped us to this point.” (1 Samuel 7:12)
The Blue Letter Bible identifies the Ebenezer as a “stone of help.” In the Old Testament, people would set up an Ebenezer to remember what God had done for them. It was usually a rock or a pile of rocks. This marker in history would remind the generations of God’s faithfulness, goodness, provision, love … whatever He had given to sustain His people at that time.
Joshua also erected a memorial of twelve stones (one to signify each tribe of Israel) on the west bank of the Jordan River when the Israelites crossed to take the town of Jericho (Joshua 4:6-7).
Even though it’s not named as such in the Bible, I believe that group of stones to be an Ebenezer. Joshua said, “Therefore these stones will always be a memorial for the Israelites.” But he could have just as truthfully said, “The LORD has helped up to this point.”
I love the idea of setting an Ebenezer to remember God’s faithfulness. To make a physical representation of a time when God has shown off one of His many attributes. How often we are treated to God’s working in our lives only to run into trouble down the line and completely forget that we serve an awesome, omnipotent, and faithful God?
The fact that Jesus said we will face rejection (Luke 10:16), persecution (John 15:20), and suffering (John 16:33) is enough to know that hard times are going to hit us. If we forget the goodness of God and waiver in our faith every time we are subject to some trial … where would we be? Swaying in the wind and never clinging to the Lord who loves us and has already proven Himself to us time and time again. Constructing an Ebenezer of some sort can help remind us that He is close.
When I came to live in Florida from Arizona six years ago, I was none too happy. I didn’t have a job (and couldn’t find one in the economic downturn) so I was forced to move in with my parents. Not having lived with my parents for over 30 years, I prayed every day that God would change my situation. If I remember correctly it was something like, “Lord, get me outta here.” Out of my parent’s house. Out of the State of Florida. It didn’t matter. Over and over. It became my mantra.
I wound myself up in knots praying that prayer even though God had already told me my future. If you’ve been reading me for a while you’ll remember that in a particularly intense prayer session in Arizona God told me that I would move to Florida. Unfortunately I hadn’t been building my brick wall and had forgotten that what I thought of as my horrible situation was actually part of His plan.
Even after three weeks when I came to grips with the fact that I might have to stay in Florida for a while … wait a minute … do you like the fact that I succumbed to my “fate” after three weeks? I really gave God a lot of time to change my situation, eh? Oy Vey! That’s an eye-opener! Well, after three whole weeks I yielded and finally decided to find a church to attend while I worked out my sentence in Florida.
My Mom had gone around to her friends asking for a church that might match my style. “I told them you liked to put your hands in the air when you sang.” She said.
Grinning, because it was true and I knew my mom really thought that was kinda kookie, I took her list of three local churches where, presumably, they sang with their hands in the air.
Now I see I’ve really gone on much too long. Please come back on Wednesday when I’ll wrap up the story and perhaps add another brick to the wall.
The hardest thing about writing a memoir is discovering things about yourself that you’d really rather not know. Case in point: Back in the day (almost 20 years ago now) I had an umbilical hernia that was strangulating my colon. I didn’t know it at first. I figured I had a severe case of food poisoning. I’d just started a new job and one Monday the whole office had gone out to eat at Red Robin. By that afternoon I felt so sick that I headed home early to crawl into bed and proceeded to throw everything up from the day.
The next day I felt no better. I called in sick and continued to lay in bed. At some point in the afternoon I tried a cup of tea and dry toast. Nope. That quickly came up. I spent the rest of the day in bed sipping water for sustenance. The third day I was still ill and didn’t even attempt to eat. I spent more time worrying if my new job was in jeopardy due this ill-timed outage. The fourth day dawned and once I began to throw up the water I was sipping, I knew I was in trouble. I called my office and told the admin that I was going to drag myself to the hospital. Luckily, she offered to come get me.
Upon arriving at my door, her face told me I didn’t look very good. Reaching the ER they discovered the hernia, scheduled emergency surgery, and set me up on a saline drip due to the severe dehydration. Before she left, my admin asked me if I wanted her to call my parents. I thought briefly – they were in Florida, I was in Denver – I was in a state-of-the-art hospital, and the doctor had already explained the procedure. (My biggest fear was that the hernia had caused some of my colon to die and I’d wake up with a bag that I’d have to wear the rest of my life.) I told her that I didn’t want them called.
Even though she did call them and by the time I was out of surgery they were on their way; I wondered for years afterward why didn’t I want them called? I mean. Who does that? Who goes through major surgery and doesn’t contact the only people in their life who truly love them?
I’ve thought about this for years without really coming to an answer.
God brought me into my parent’s home a few years before I was diagnosed with cancer. My parents have been absolute troopers throughout the diagnosis, surgery, and treatments and there is absolutely no way I could have gotten through it all without them. But I’ve also witnessed the emotional stress they’re under. It occurred to me the other day. The reason I didn’t call them 20 years ago and the reason I wish they didn’t have to go through this now.
I’m a burden.
I don’t know how much of that is actually true, but for some reason it is how I feel. I didn’t want to burden them back in Denver and I hate that I’m burdening them now. They are retired and should be living days that are wild and carefree. But I see the stress on their faces. I hear their fighting over nothing at all. And I know I’m to blame. Not me, really, but my situation. Without me however, my situation wouldn’t exist. So where do I end and my situation begin? And how can I ever get over this feeling?
This probably won’t make the book unless I hear from God on the matter. Writing the memoir shines a light onto my psyche and in most cases I can illustrate an encouraging message that has developed from my past. Otherwise, what’s the point of writing it at all?
PS: My admin apologized later for calling my parents against my wishes but when she’d picked me up, she said she was so scared because I was gray. I don’t hold it against her. Anyone in the right mind would have wanted their parents called. Maybe they’re right (whoever they are) – writers are crazy.
I’ve just finished a book by Pastor Kyle Idleman called The End of Me. He’s also the author of the wildly popular Not a Fan (revised and expanded in 2016) which I also loved. As He usually does when I read good Christian material, God spoke to me throughout the book.
Pastor Kyle starts out discussing the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5) and how Jesus’ advice is contradictory to our culture. “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” (Mt. 5:4) Those who mourn will be blessed? Everyone wants a blessing but who wants to mourn to be blessed?
Let’s look at it through Jesus’ eyes. To paraphrase Idleman: when we suffer, we mourn. Our suffering opens up a huge cavity in our hearts with whatever we’ve lost – it could be a relationship, our health, a person, anything that means something to us. But this is where God can fill us up with Himself. If we allow Him, we will be blessed by His presence … by His comfort … by the peace that transcends understanding.
I, and certainly anyone else who is fighting a terminal disease and loves Christ, has experienced that sorrow – that hole that gapes open like a cavern when you hear the words, “You have _________.” Fill in the blank, for me it was cancer.
But it wasn’t long before I experienced Jesus’ presence … His comfort … His peace. It settled on me in the midst of the battle and poured down into that hollow filling me full of Him. It’s probably the main thing that leads me to glorify God in this whole mess. The reason I can smile. The reason I can praise and worship Him in the midst of cancer.
When I meet others who know what’s going on inside me, they usually start to look all sorrowful and sad. They come up, arms open wide, hug and kiss me and step back saying, “How are you?” I love these people – and I’m not being sarcastic. Anyone who takes an interest in my condition (or loves on my parents through this journey) I seriously adore. There just aren’t enough people in the world today who care about anyone other than themselves.
“I’m great!” I say, beaming a bright smile. Even those who know I follow Jesus seem surprised at my answer. Oh I may have some fatigue or nausea but I am great despite those side effects. Jesus is my Savior and whatever happens I know where I’m going.
I recently remarked in a small church group that I may be answering a lesson question a certain way because I had what was essentially a terminal disease. The group agreed but one woman piped up and said, “You know, we all have a terminal disease.”
We all laughed, but she was right. We’re all dying – just some faster than others.
While I intend to go out on a slow boil, we all should live this life like we’re dying … because we are.
Why? Because God is sovereign. Only He knows when our last day will be. And in the meantime, you too can experience life in a cocoon of His presence – thick and warm like your favorite blanket on a snowy winter morning. Only this Comforter brings that peace that I can never really adequately describe.
How about you? When have you experienced God’s indescribable peace?
Something I did a couple years ago.
You walk a lonely path until you take the hand of Jesus.
Don’t you love when God hits you sideways with something He’s probably been trying to get through to you for a while and you finally get it?
I admit, I have to laugh. Because when I do get it, I can look back and see how long He’s been after me to learn something. I laugh because God knows I’m a dolt sometimes and loves me anyway! He’s so good to give us space to laugh at ourselves.
In Bible Study Fellowship this week we’re studying John 16 and one of the questions asks, “What circumstances in your life test your commitment to follow Jesus?” I thought and thought about this question because over the past 9 years the Lord has brought me to a place where I can no longer imagine not following Him.
So I considered my previous life … a time when I backslid … and answered with the situations that tested (and won over) my commitment to follow Jesus. Namely – success in my career (which gave me prestige and popularity), health (which wasn’t that good, but wasn’t bad enough to worry about), and finances (which were so that I was frivolous and spent buying possessions to fill up the ache in my heart).
As we answered the question in leader’s group on Saturday, I looked at the words on the page: career, health, finances …
The three were the world’s interpretation of success. I spent my time focusing on those things that were going to help me live the “good life.” I was doing good. I had everything I needed and then some. I … I … I … what I didn’t see was the gulf between God and I getting wider and wider until … I lost it all.
That’s when it hit me. I’d answered the question a couple of days prior but right in the middle of leader’s group I had an epiphany.
God had brought me to the end of myself.
Ten years ago I was ignoring God and doing my own thing – great career, decent health, super finances. But now …
Now I have no career, no health, and no finances!!!
Why do I sound so happy?
Because I’m closer to Jesus than I’ve ever been in my whole life! That alone fills me with so much hope and joy I’m busting at the seams. At the end of myself my thirst was quenched, my pain was comforted, and my sorrow turned to joy.
So no, nothing can get me to go back to the world’s system. I’m following Jesus as closely as I can and when I get a little ahead of Him … or perhaps lag too far behind … I know that He’ll pull me close to Him again.
Have you come to the end of yourself yet?